Queer Disco

I do remember dancing on lit floors, colored lights, flashing. That may seem like a long time ago, it was a long time ago, I remember the disco beat, I remember the dancing, and I remember when the wave turned against disco music, when it became reviled, as punk moved into New York. I remember the Bee Gees, I remember Donna Summer, I remember dancing on those lit floors, but there are some things I'm learning about that I don't remember.

I don't remember Arthur Russell.  In fact, I'd never heard of Arthur Russell until a week ago, one of my sons gave me a CD of his small folk pop tunes, his friend is writing about Russell, and it was all news to me.  I looked him up, started reading about him, a wide ranging musician, friends with Allen Ginsberg, alternative musical compositions, cello, pop tunes, David Byrne, a victim of AIDS at age 41.

And disco.

You see, I may have been dancing on a few lit floors, colored lights, but where I was dancing the audience wasn't shouting back Yes! to the Loose Joints when they sang "Is It All Over My Face?," they weren't dancing to that song, it wasn't on any radio station I listened to.  I thought I'd heard disco music, but I'd never heard a cello in a disco song, I don't think I'd heard trombones, either, and I know I hadn't heard the double entendre of  is it all over my face.  "Is it all over my face,"

You caught me love dancing,
Is it all over my face,
I'm in love dancin'.........

Is it all over my face, the fact that I'm loving this dancing, that's what the words meant, but is it all over my face, a crowd of men dancing, gay men, 1980, before the fall, is it all over my face, that audience knew the second meaning and as they danced they shouted back, Yes!

I'm not sure I listened very closely to the lyrics of those disco songs I knew back then, but I'm doubting I ever heard the implicit darkness that I hear now in Russell's 1978 underground hit, "Kiss Me Again," long, repetitive, but minimal in a very advanced sort of way.  The vocalist, a woman, sings the lines, but there's a detachment, given what she is singing, "the wind blows,"

the clouds wave, am I a woman or a slave?
Oooh baby, is this the woman I want to be?
Kiss me again, kiss me again, kiss me again........

There's a subversiveness to this disco music, this is not John Travolta, the straight man at the center, leading, strutting, no, this music is off, it's anticipating things that are coming, it's queer.  So queer, the producers of "Is It All Over My Face," when they discovered what Russell had given them, quickly remixed it, removing the male vocals and replacing them with a female, so that we have the Male Version, original, a little harder to find, and the Female Version, less rough around the edges, more widely heard.  And now, with time, with the years having past, this music is all about places that don't exist any longer, the Garage and the Loft, a world that is gone, a sexually liberated world, men in New York asserting themselves, taking hold of their sexuality, but just before things change, they don't know what's coming, they are dancing all night, is it all over my face they are singing, I'm in love dancin..................

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Tina said...

I'm too young to have known these clubs, but it seems that it must have been a very interesting time then, in the 70s, when the gay liberation movement was new and before AIDS struck.

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